When director Steven C. Barber checked his email before going to bed Dec. 11, he expected to find an empty inbox. What he saw instead was a notification from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences that his documentary, “Until They Are Home,” had been shortlisted for two nominations for the 85th Academy Awards in February.
“It was kind of like winning the lottery,” Barber, 51, says of the news that the film was up for nominations for Best Score and Best Original Song. “Being up against some of the best films of the year like ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Les Miserables’ just makes me so proud. We’re a small production. This makes us look bigger.”
The documentary, which chronicles the search for the remains of missing Marines killed in the 1943 Battle of Tarawa, features the original song “She Won’t Let Go” written and performed by country singer Clint Black and an eponymous original score by composer Jamie Dunlap.
This isn’t the first time that Barber, a Las Vegas native who divides his time between Summerlin and L.A., has come close to Oscar recognition; his first documentary, “Unbeaten,” was shortlisted in 2010 for a Best Original Song nod, also for a tune written and performed by Black.
“The whole thing about winning is that no matter what category you’re in, if you get a nomination, your film is set,” he says, explaining that the nomination would be the boost the film needs to find theater distribution. Barber says he is currently in talks to have the film picked up on HBO or Showtime and is working to have it sold through Wal-Mart, as well.
For now, however, he’s simply proud and content to be Las Vegas’ sole representation on two Academy lists dominated by major studio productions.
“Nevada is a state of winners and losers, and today I feel like a winner ... like Las Vegas is a winner. I feel like I hit 7-7-7 on the slot machine,” he says. “My life would change dramatically if we got the nomination. But I can’t go into it thinking I’ll win. For me, it doesn’t need to get better than this.”
The final nominations will be announced Thursday, Jan. 10, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The winners will be revealed at the 85th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 24.
For trailers and more information about “Until They Are Home,” visit UntilTheyAreHome.com.